After two weeks of grueling two-a-day practices, a trip to Hawaii would seem like a pretty good reward for the UCLA women’s volleyball team.
Though the Bruins are heading to a vacation spot, they’ll hardly be relaxing there. The team will kick off its season by taking part in the Chevron Rainbow Wahine Invitational at the University of Hawai’i. The Bruins will take on Kansas State on Friday, San Diego on Saturday and Hawai’i on Sunday.
Coach Mike Sealy said the team has been able to work on its basic offense during preseason practice, but there are still parts of the game, such as specialty plays and smaller things that maybe only happen once or twice a match, that he hasn’t had time to address.
“You have an ideology that you want to cover everything from A to Z, and sometimes you only get to the letter P,” Sealy said.
Once they get to Hawaii, the Bruins, who are ranked No. 16 in the 2010 American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll and seventh in the Pac-10 Coaches Preseason Poll, will face an unfamiliar Kansas State team.
The Wildcats, who went 12-18 and 6-14 in the Big 12 last year, will feature new setters now that last year’s setter, Soriana Pacheco, has finished her collegiate career. As a result, Kansas State’s offense could be different.
UCLA will then face a powerful offensive team in San Diego, which enters the season at No. 22. San Diego was also the second-best team in the West Coast Conference in hitting percentage last year and finished 18-7 and 10-5 in the WCC.
Sealy highlighted Torero senior opposite Ali Troost, who was the WCC Player of the Year last year.
The Bruins end their run in Hawaii by playing the host school. The Rainbow Wahine, who are currently No. 5, made it to the national semifinal last season after ending the regular season with a 32-3 record and an unblemished 16-0 finish in the Western Athletic Conference.
Sealy, who was an assistant coach at Hawai’i for four years before coming back to his alma mater this year, said he won’t get caught up in returning to Hawaii.
“It’s not really that strange,” Sealy said. “It wasn’t that strange when I went over there and UCLA came to play those few years. You just coach the kids you coach.”
The Bruins will have to account for Hawai’i junior outside hitter Kanani Danielson, who was the WAC Player of the Year in 2009. Sealy said Danielson will be tough to contain because of her leaping ability.
Going against offensive powerhouses will be an especially important test for the Bruins, who will need to dig well as a team to counter their lack of size.
Junior libero Lainey Gera said the back-row players will have to play well together to fill gaps in the defense.
“We’re all dependable on the block, but at the same time, we fill the seams of the block so if there’s any holes or anything, that’s our job,” Gera said. “Personally, being the libero, I need to take control of the whole back row so that we can just work together.”
If Gera can pick up where she left off in 2009, the Bruins should have a much easier time digging. Last year, Gera recorded 594 digs and 4.91 digs per set, both of which were the second-best season totals in UCLA history in their respective categories.
New Bruins impress during practice
The play of the Bruins’ newest players has provided enthusiasm and excitement for the rest of the team.
“They’ve all been a nice surprise,” Sealy said of the freshmen. “I would say I could put the majority of them in a match right now and not have to worry about it, not have to worry about them not having experience.”
Outside hitter Kelly Reeves, whom Sealy called “a projected starter,” has impressed her teammates.
Middle blocker Mariana Aquino also received praise, along with junior setter Lauren Van Orden, who is in her first year as a Bruin after transferring from San Diego State. Van Orden has played well in a position once held by Lauren Cook, who transferred to Nebraska last year, and Nellie Spicer before her, who played from 2005 to 2008.